Friday, September 30, 2011

My Next On30 Locomotive Project

With the start of construction on my new layout combo project unknown at this moment, since all the other "new home" projects superseding hobby pursuits, I hope to at least have my modeling work table up and running very soon. Besides taking measurements of the new train room and beginning track planning to scale, I have another locomotive project I'm itching to get underway: A sound-equipped 2-8-0 logging tank engine/tender conversion - from an unused Bachmann HO-scale engine into an uber-cool woods switcher.

With my On30 logging Diesel "critter" just about completed (save for weathering, final detailing and decals) I am ready to start the steam engine project. I have "stripped down" the HO steamer as much as I possibly can, leaving a box full of parts and components. Armed with a fist-full of photos and scale drawings of a number of logging locomotives, I'm feeling confident I can build a convincing On30 loco "On-The-Cheap" for my planned On30 Swamp Logger layout.

I know I'll likely need to purchase a few commercial detail parts for my logger, like generator, air pump, bell, headlights, whistle, stack, back head details and a set of On30 tender trucks.  I'm thinking of using a section of PVC pipe as the base of the wrap-around saddle tank adding front and back plates with added rivet details. I will add the steam and sand domes from the HO loco, unless they look overly small for 1/4-inch scale. I have a few cigar tubes on hand that I can use as the larger-sized domes. I'm also planning on scratch-building the open-air cab typical for the hot and humid environment of the swamp. Converting the front pilot and walkways are still under R & D.

I will keep the tender with the loco to use the extra "space" for the power pick-up, DCC components and speaker. For the tender, I'll split the tender body apart lengthwise to widen it to a typical narrow gauge 7-to-8 foot girth. I will bridge the gap with filler pieces and mount body onto a widen chassis. Since the loco will be an oil-burner, I will have to fashion a bunker for the fuel oil to fill out the tender, adding sander bins, toolboxes and a rear headlight mount. Drilling some air holes to the floor of the tender will allow sound to 'escape.'

One of the things that has changed my "Diesels-Only" modeling mentality, especially for this new Swamp Logger layout to include steam engines is sound! Having worked on and around a life-size operating Shay and 2-8-2, the one thing I remember is the "breathing" of the engine...the sounds of the air pump, and generator, the escaping steam. Any steam loco that goes onto this On30 layout will have sound.

Working on a limited budget, I'm hoping to keep the final total cost way under $70. Since the loco has been in a box, unused and the DCC decoder sitting in the parts bin as well, I'm ahead cash column. When I shop the websites and ebay listings for sound-equipped On30 steam locos and see the prices upwards of $200 -$300, scratch-building a few logging engines to get my layout up and running is the only way to go!

If this scratch-building project goes as planned and I'm pleased with the results, I might want to purchase one of those awesome re-released HO-scale Mantua 2-6-6-2T logging Mallets and convert it to On30. Banta Model Works makes a laser-cut cab for that engine which would make the conversion a piece of cake.

So as I plan this On30 Swamp Logger, I am happy the contrast will be huge compared to my modern-era HO scale Big Island & Pacific RR layout that will be built above the larger-scale pike. This will give me a lot of opportunity for model railroading hobby variety!

Please check my BIRR website:

Thanks for reading!

Monday, September 26, 2011

All Moved In. Now, the "Work" Begins

Well, it seemed like the day would never get here and now it's in the history books. The move into a new home has happened and sections of my HO layout, plus dozens of boxes filled with locos, freight cars, structures, track and details have been transferred and fill the new, smaller basement where they will be reconfigured and reside for many years to come.

Now that my wife and I are actually in the house and the trains are in the basement, I will be able to get a more accurate idea of how feasible my plan to have a double deck, two-scale, two-theme layout room really is. Just from seeing the space without the previous owners "stuff" in there I'm feeling pretty good about being able to make the concept work. Funny how a long-time model railroader can look at a future layout space and visualize how a layout will work within the confines of the walls, furnace, water heater, washer and dryer, posts, piping, vents and all the other stuff in the way!

So, until I can get down there into the future basement train room and start up-grading the space to be move "layout-friendly" I'll still be plugging along with my HO-to-On30 2-8-0 logging tank engine conversion project at the workbench when not working at the other homeowner projects to get the other parts of the new house up to snuff. Hmmm... Looks like I'll try to put my multi-tasking skills to use...painting the master bathroom and framing in a new wall for the layout room, tearing out a old deck and sealing the basement walls. I'll keep you posted on how things are going!

Thanks for reading these blog posts. Please tell your model railroading friends to check-in every once in a while. Please become a follower of the blog as well. Drop me a comment, as they are very nice to receive and I love the feed back and ideas!

Friday, September 23, 2011

The End of One Layout, The Beginning of Another Two

Well, it's finally happened, a new house is officially ours! The transition and move is now underway. My modern-era Big Island Rail HO-scale shortline has been dismantled and is ready to be moved to it's new basement home. With a new "older" home, there's a lot of non-model railroading projects to do to get comfortable in our living quarters and a lot of work to do to get the layout room ready for the new creation of a double decked, double scale layout room concept.

While waiting for the real estate deal to go down and slowly taking apart my HO layout, I had the chance to think about the good and not-so-good aspects of the layout. It started out as a "temporary" layout while in the rental home and was built with temporary construction methods to not "damage" the basement, yet give the layout a sense of permanence and sturdiness during our stay. Due to the concessions, so to speak, and not wanting to put a lot of money into a layout that would be torn apart at sometime in the future, I found I did not design the layout in a way that would hold my interests over the long haul. I guess it didn't have to. I feel I accomplished several really good scenes on the layout, but I think my operational goals were too lofty for the layout and the time and funds I had to "play trains" each week.

I've pinpointed a couple things I think are to blame for losing interest in the old layout (way before the move became a possibility). My concept for a modern-era shortline railroad on the Big Island of Hawaii (based on the premise that the old standard gauge Hawaii Consolidated Railway remained in business into the 20th Century long after the 1946 tsunami wiped out a good portion of the railroad) is a good one...different than anything I've seen or read about in the model RR'ing press...but I was thinking too much on the feasibility of the line being operational on the Island as it is today with no industry to speak of to actually support a freight-hauling railroad. Even though my BIRR is purely fictional, I seemed to put way too much pressure on myself to make the model railroad uber realistic. For me this meant the"fun" went out the window.

The other reason the layout didn't really make it for me was the lack of a continuous run option to off-set the point-to-point operations when I just want to run a train and kick back with a layout project and enjoy watching it.

Modern railroading means long cars, long trains and longer staging tracks, yard tracks and passing sidings. Even with a layout of the size I had in the rental basement, it wasn't "big" enough. I had to keep usable space around washing machines, furnace, water heater, stairs and bathroom, not to mention needing to make a "movable" layout. The  put a number of restrictions on the layout design.

With an 'operations only' concept, I over-developed the operation scheme for the pike, adding different locals, switch jobs, plant and industry switchers, unit trains..... with all that, it was hard to remember what train I ran or what cars were just dropped or needing pick-up the last time I was in the train room. I just would look at the layout, look at my switching lists and walk back upstairs.

The plan for my new layouts in the smaller basement space of our new home is focused on adding enjoyment and variety to the hobby in a way that will beckon me down to the train room and keep me there for a while. Two different scales and two different concepts for each is a strong start to adding interest to the model railroad room. With a On30 narrow gauge swamp loggers concept on the bottom and a modern standard gauge Hawaiian Island shortline shelf-runner on top, I hope I'll always have something to capture my attention for years to come.


Friday, September 16, 2011

On30 Layout Revisited and Logging Critter Update

I'm getting anxious to get started with the new layout(s). My goal is to take the "limited" layout space and make the best of it for both my HO scale Big Island Rail layout and the new On30 Logging/Harbor pike.I think the concentrated space will help me centralize layout plans and keep me in check. In my Colorado bedroom HO layout (before the move to Minn.) I was able to zero-in on the limited space and get the layout  "close to completion." Good enough to take some great photos and get a layout feature accepted by Model Railroader Magazine (not yet published). I'm hopeful I can accomplish the same with my combo layouts concept.

I'm thinking of using the top HO scale layout as a valance, so-to-speak, for the On30 layout below. I want the room to look beautiful, finished, comfortable and a joy to spend time it. Since this is going to be a "permanent" layout(s) working on room finishes and lighting will be a must. I plan to finish the front fascia of the layouts in a nice "bead board" paneling, painted in a nice "Depot" green and trimmed to add a touch of class to the finished layout room. I want a seamless, curved background panel as well. Lighting the On30 layout will come mostly from fixtures under the HO layout bench work with additional lights in the room to highlight extended section of the On30 layout.

Pondering a Change of Theme 
The more I ponder my new On30 project during the countdown to a new basement, I'm starting to think about dropping the whole "Sugar Plantation"  railroad concept and unifying the layout into an "All Swamp Logging and Lumber" railroad. I've modified my operations concept to have logging trains run through from staging wing through the woods camp and then into "town/harbor" and off to the other staging wing to the "mill." This will add more actual running of the trains along the layout.

With this idea, my thought is to use the Pier 1 portion of the layout as a tidewater harbor. Instead of handling mainly bagged raw sugar, I would run lumber cars from the "mill" to the Pier 1 area for loading onto cargo steam ships for travel to market. General freight shipments will also head to the harbor to keep the local trains busy.

I think this is a better concept for the layout so I can keep the backwater Bayou feel to the entire layout giving better continuity and purpose and not dividing the small layout into two even smaller parts. I can still use my On30 scratch-built sugar boxcars as lumber company supply cars between mill and woods. I will run passenger trains or mixed trains to the harbor and rail bus operations from harbor to the woods camps for added interest and operations.

Critter Nears Completion
Interspersed in this blog dispatch are the latest snapshots of my scratch-built On30 critter. Still to do - run the lights into the headlight housings, add some "steps" at all four corners, add 'No. 6' to the cab sides, weather the loco a bit more, add a bell and more detail parts and goodies in the cab and on the engine itself. When funds allow, I'll purchase a small speaker that will squeeze into the short hood and a sound unit for the DCC.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Hand Lay Or Flex Track

My original plan, with the early concept of a portable modular train show On30 Swamp Logger layout, was to hand lay all of the track and the three turnouts that the minimal track plan included. But now with a proposed full narrow gauge layout in a new basement, I'm starting to back off that lofty goal. I'm more about using track materials on-hand or, I should say, leftover, from the reconfiguration of my HO scale Big Island Rail layout into the new basement as a shelf layout above the On30 layout. This is a plus since both layouts will use the same gauge track.With the increased size of the new On30 pike, those leftover turnouts will come in handy expediting track laying.

I'm not a fan of using HO scale track under On30 equipment since it does not give that irresistible "narrow gauge" look that I love or the proper "scale look" to me. It still looks like too big trains on too small track. But with that said, I offer 'The Coast Line RR' as an exception to the rule. Creator Mr. Trois Kirk has built a beautiful On30 layout using HO gauge flex track exclusively. Only in a few areas on his layout do you notice the small, closer-spaced HO scale ties.

I am pondering a couple different ways of modifying or disguising the HO flex track. The new On30 layout will utilize a large section of the HO BIRR layout's harbor and pier area where the Code 83 rail (track) is buried in the "concrete" surface of the pier. Since I will likely have quite a few leftover turnouts from the revamped HO layout, I plan to use these in the new On30 layout. My idea is to totally bury as much of the "out-of-scale" HO flex track as possible under dirt, weeds and ballast. I plan to remove a number of the plastic ties in each section of flex track that goes down and replace them with On30 wooden ties that will stick out at prototypical length. This will give the impression of hand-laid track in those areas of the layout.

I would like to hand-lay track in "signature" areas of the layout, such as the log landing, logging loco engine shed and shop, turntable area and loco service scene in "town," plus bridges, trestles and other "key" areas that will get a lot of visitor and photography attention.

So, with all that said, it seems I will ultimately use a blend of both hand-laid On30 track and "disguised" HO-scale flex track and turnouts to help me quickly get trains operating as I build my new On30 "Combo" Swamp Logger/Sugar Plantation layout.

Please feel free to drop me a line or leave a comment regarding this blog. Pass the word about the Blackwater & Mosquito Creek Lumber Co. Thanks!

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Layout Height, Part 2

With a new layout on the drawing board...well, actually TWO new layouts in the planning stages, figuring out  track height is going to be a critical aspect of planning. My one limiting factor of the "lower-level" On30 layout in the new basement was a planned staging yard "wing" I envisioned over the laundry area of the basement on a narrow shelf. I have planned the same type staging yard wing for the HO "upper-level" layout where height will not be an issue at 65-inches above the floor. I measured our washer and dryer and they stand at just shy of 48-inches (4 feet) with the dryer sitting on a foot-tall platform adding to that height. That measures-out to be taller than my estimated On30 layout height of about 46-to-48-inches from the floor. Doing some quick math, this leaves about a foot and a half between bench work of the HO layout and rails of the On30 layout. Hmmm? Is this enough space between the two pikes?

Since the HO layout will be mostly narrow shelves above the On30 layout, it might not be as much of a concern as I think it might be. If I lower the On30 layout to say...40-inches...that will give me about 2-feet between the two layouts, better separation so the On30 layout wouldn't seem so "squashed" and wedged into too small of a space. But, with the On30 layout that low, I would run into issues in the laundry area staging getting it over the washer and dryer.

After pondering this, I have come up with an idea. Since I plan on building a new wall to separate the layout room from the rest of the basement and the laundry area, I could wrap a gentle curve through the new wall and mount the staging yard and turntable along the outside of the wall. Since I would like to include a turntable in the staging yard to spin steam locomotives for return trips into the main layout room, the wider shelf would work better along the new wall rather than over the washer and dryer area. With this plan, I would add a backdrop and scenery to the staging yard since it will be a predominate scene in the basement. This will give "visitors" a glimpse of what awaits behind the walls.

With that said, I could place the layout height at whatever I feel is comfortable for working and running trains. I'm still thinking about having the On30 layout operable from a rolling stool or tall office chair. That will make spending time in the train room more comfortable and enjoyable. Now, I need to start shopping for chairs or shop stools with a tape measure in hand to find one at the right height. Then I can zero-in on the final height to build the On30 layout bench work when I get to that phase of the new layout construction.